How to start building a wellness strategy from scratch
David Shearman, Head of Wellbeing and Engagement at YuLife shares some invaluable insider advice for anyone building their first wellness strategy.
Yugi the Giraffe - 20 June 2022
Whether your organisation is large or small, in 2022 everyone needs an employee wellness strategy. But how do you develop one in practice?
David Shearman, Head of Wellbeing and Engagement at YuLife, recently gave a talk as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, and offered some invaluable insider advice for anyone starting from scratch with building a wellness strategy.
1. Make a long-term commitment
Employee wellness is something you need to take seriously – and make a long-term commitment to. "It can't be something that you just dip your toe into now and again," he explains. "If it's just sending out the odd message, or putting on the odd webinar around a particular theme of well being, it won't feel very genuine to your employees."
Rather than piecemeal actions, it's about creating a holistic culture of employee wellness – and this won't happen overnight, cautions David: "It could take months to really kick off and resonate with your people. In some instances, it can take years. That's because for an employee wellness strategy to succeed, you need to get buy-in from across the organisation."
2. Begin at the top
So where do you start with buy-in? You might expect employee wellness strategies to originate in HR, but David suggests a different approach.
"I've always found the most successful wellbeing programmes stem from the CEO and the senior leadership team," he says. "They have to buy into the strategy first, and then communicate that. It shouldn't just fall to the HR function to be the sole ambassador for wellbeing."
Line managers provide the crucial next stage of buy-in within the organisation. "So it's important to bring them into the strategy too, and how you're going to roll it out and communicate it," explains David.
3. Start small
Employee wellness covers many different areas of life, including mental health, physical health, financial issues, and family and relationship issues. So it's natural to want to make your program fully comprehensive, and cover all of these aspects, before launching it.
But David cautions against this approach. Instead, he advises: "Start small. Don't try and do everything at once. Make it easy for your employees to understand."
This means starting off with generic themes that apply to large sections of your workforce, rather than niche ones that may only affect a few people. "The more accessible your strategy is, to more people, the more engagement you'll get, and the more you'll get people talking about it.”
4. Communicate regularly
If high engagement is vital to the success or failure of your employee wellness strategy, how do you achieve that? "Communication, communication, communication," says David. "Make sure that your communications are regular, and constant."
Too often, employees don't engage with employee wellness services because they simply aren't aware of them, and that comes down to lack of communication. As David puts it: "The more you talk about it, the more your people will use it."
5. Be cost-effective
Like it or not, no organisation has an unlimited pot of money. So being cost-effective is another key factor in the success of your employee wellness strategy.
Again, this relates back to David's advice on starting small. "You don't have to offer the world to your people straightaway," he explains. "So look for those quick wins."
For example, you might give your employees a wellbeing budget on a monthly basis, which they can use for anything that improves their wellbeing, such as creating quiet areas in offices, or a wellbeing room where they can rest or meditate. Alternatively, you might encourage employees to take 'walking meetings', or have periods of the day when there are no meetings at all. "Many of these ideas can be implemented at zero cost, but can have such a big impact," David points out.
6. Assess existing benefits
Even if you're just starting to build an employee wellness strategy, your organisation may already offer some wellness benefits to employees. So it's worth taking a close look at these, at this early stage, and analysing whether they represent value for money.
Questions you should ask include: "Are these benefits having the desired impact that you want? Are they driving the utilisation you want within the organisation?" If not, David suggests, you might want to consider removing these benefits, and starting again from scratch.
"Look to understand your people, look at your demographics, and think about what will better resonate with them," suggests David. He adds that line managers are key, here, in helping you understand your employees, and what kind of things are important to them in practice.
7. Shop around
David's final piece of advice is to shop around, because there are a lot of wellbeing benefit providers on the market nowadays. "So you don't need to focus too niche: you can find providers that can tick many boxes," he points out. "Seek out those who provide mental health support, financial wellbeing, social wellbeing, and physical wellbeing, so you get the biggest bang for your buck."
Once all that's in place, you may discover areas where you need to go deeper into a specific area of wellbeing, and you can look to introduce further benefits around that as well.
Building an employee wellness strategy is a major task, requiring a serious, long-term commitment and buy-in throughout the organisation. But if that seems intimidating, the good news is, you don't have to do it all at once.
You're best off starting small, finding quick and cheap wins, and evolving your employee wellness programme in an organic and natural way that actually meets the needs of staff.
Communicate regularly with your employees, encourage feedback and consider all options carefully.
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